Let's get back to football for a while. The Cougars worked out in Martin Stadium this morning, allowing fans access to the day's workout. They ended it with a 35-minute scrimmage matching ones vs. twos. One observation: It's tough to tell whether the Cougars are going to be improved – I'll leave that to smarter people than I – but it is obvious they are more physical. The hitting today was at a level I don't believe I saw in any practice last season. These guys like to pound each other. On the link you'll find the unedited version of my feature on quarterback Marshall Lobbestael's knee injury and his rehabilitation. Read on.
• Here's the story along with some practice notes ...
PULLMAN – Marshall Lobbestael remembers the play. He remembers the pain. And he remembers the path back.
It's been less than six months since Lobbestael had his redshirt freshman season cut short by a blind-side hit by Oregon State's Slade Norris, tearing the quarterback's medial collateral and anterior collateral ligaments in his left knee.
"I had never really been hit in the legs, in the side, like that before," Lobbestael recalled this week. "That game, I was getting hit a lot, it seemed like. But it was just the right spot, you know? He just hit me in a bad spot.
"People say you know your body and you can tell when something's wrong. I had never broken a bone or tore anything before, so I thought something was wrong, but I didn't know what."
Though he felt the result.
"It hurt pretty bad," he said, before being asked to judge the pain on a 1-to-10 scale. "Right away it was probably an eight or nine. I rolled over and tried getting up real quick and it went back up to an eight or nine. After that, I didn't try any more."
Remarkably, it's been only about five months since Washington State University team orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Ed Tingstad, repaired the damage.
Since then, Lobbestael has spent every waking hour either in rehabilitation or thinking about it.
"So far the trainers and doctors say everything is going according to plan and I'm on schedule," the quarterback said this week.
Lobbestael's relatively quick recovery – he's taking part in all but team drills during spring practice – has a foundation in hard work, framed by diligence and covered by technology.
"He's a hard-working kid," said Bill Drake, WSU's assistant athletic director for athletic training services. "I think he kind of grew up working hard in his family, and any time that happens, it shows in his hard work now. He really has that work ethic that makes a rehab a success."
Lobbestael's rehabilitation began, you could say, as they wheeled him out of the operating room Oct. 29. As soon as he was awake, Lobbestael said, he was thinking about what was ahead.
That included crutches and a large leg brace for a couple weeks, a smaller brace after that and finally, some freedom of movement.
Through all the stages, Lobbestael has spent time lounging in a pool, though lounging might be the wrong word, considering the pool is in WSU's recently opened Cougar Mania Hydrotherapy Facility with its underwater treadmill that can reach 8.5 miles per hour.
Each of Lobbestael's – or any recovering athlete's – water workouts can be taped from different angles thanks to a series of cameras and a computer monitor.
"In rehab, I was walking on the underwater treadmill almost right away after," Lobbestael said. "I started out really slow in there and just worked my way up."
Being submerged to their shoulders takes most of the body weight off a recovering athlete's legs, allowing cardiovascular work to begin long before the athlete is completely healed from surgery.
"It just makes (the rehabilitation) go smoother," Drake said. "The physician may not clear you before the 6 to 9 months, but it just makes the time (more productive).
"When you get to that 9-month mark, you are way ahead of the game in a base of strength and a base of motion and a base of conditioning and cardiovascular fitness."
Lobbesteal, who sports a scar on the front of the knee, worked out at least a couple times a week in the $1 million facility, which opened last November. The room also includes hot- and cold-jetted pools, helping to supplement the usual knee-injury rehabilitation athletes have gone through for years.
And he religiously threw a football, first from a chair, then standing but without leg movement and finally with his legs involved. The repetitions have brought results.
"Being older and more mature helps, but just the amount of straight catch I played, just stepping and throwing," Lobbestael said of his improved accuracy. "One of the big milestones I was able to take was being able to step and throw. Once I could do that, I started doing it a lot.
"It's one thing that coach (Todd) Sturdy has been on us about this year. He wants us to be more accurate."
So far this spring, Lobbestael is completing better than 70 percent of his throws in 7-on-7 skeleton passing drills, which don't include a rush, according to Sturdy, the offensive coordinator. Which is as much as Sturdy could hope for.
"I was hoping we would get him at some point in the spring to throw some 1-on-1s, throw a little skelly," he said. "I had my fingers crossed that we would get him to throw skelly.
"The thing he's got to be careful with," Sturdy added, "is it feels really good, but it's not good, you know? It's not strong yet. He's cleared to do all the things he's doing, but he's just got to remember that."
Of course, the rehabilitation hasn't gone without hitches, one of which was of Lobbestael's making. In February he was ticketed for being a minor exhibiting signs of drinking alcohol, suspended by coach Paul Wulff and disciplined by the team's Unity Council.
"It taught me just how much I have to lose," Lobbestael said. "This is really important to me but I didn't realize how important until that happened. I have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play here, to go to college, get my education paid for and make the people close to me proud.
"Since that happened - I made a bad decision – I've been working hard to gain back the respect of the coaches, my teammates, gain the respect of my friends, my family. I think through hard work and maybe getting through the rest of my rehab, that will prove it to them and gain that respect back."
SPRING NOTES: The sun came out for WSU's first spring practice in Martin Stadium, as did a few dozen fans in town on Mom's Weekend. The Cougars responded with a spirited end-of-practice scrimmage, going 35 minutes with the No. 1 unit on one side of the ball lining up against the No. 2 unit on the other. Though the defense, thanks to injuries, sickness – the flu bug is still making its rounds, claiming Xavier Hicks and Alex Hoffman-Ellis as its latest victims – and academics, was down to 21 bodies, so a true two-deep was unattainable. "Our defense was clearly depleted the most," Wulff said. ... Still, the Cougars popped the pads most of practice, especially up front, something that was missing much of last season. "The guys came out ready and wanted to practice today and that was very encouraging," Wulff said. "We played real physical football today, something we've been trying to address in the offseason and a style of play we want to build." ... There is no position with more depth and competition than running back, with Dwight Tardy, Logwone Mitz and transfer James Montgomery fighting for time. Montgomery made the loudest statement Saturday, breaking off two long runs and making numerous tacklers miss. ... There are four players – Michael Willis, Bernard Wolfgramm, Devin Giles and Chris Ivory – whose practice time has been limited this spring so they can concentrate on academics. While the rest of the team holds a 2-hour practice, the group is "spending their time on academics," Wulff said. They are all still eligible, but Wulff wants to short-circuit any potential problems.
• That's it for now. We're still monitoring the circumstances in Detroit and we'll be back if events warranted. Until then …